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It's time to prepare for spring
Extension advice
Ashley Hoppers ext agent
Ashley Hoppers is the UGA Extension Service agent in Liberty County. - photo by File photo

January marks your last chance to plant wildflower seed. Many of the seeds require cold weather to germinate, and if planted after January, they will not have time to mature and flower before the weather gets too hot for them.

About the middle of January is when you can usually find common wildflower plants at nurseries. Be sure that when you buy the plants that you set them out right away so that they will have time to mature and flower.

Spring bulbs can also be planted in January, but they will also need time to make roots and flower before it gets too hot.

You can also start your annual spray program for your home fruit trees this month. If you want, you can spray all of your fruit trees with a dormant oil spray at this time. The purpose of this spray is to kill overwintering insects and disease.

Spray with dormant oil only if the temperature is above 40 degrees. It is very important that you do not apply oil sprays within 48 hours of hard freezes or when temperatures fall below 30 degrees. Under such conditions the spray could increase freeze damage.

There is an additional spray of copper that may be applied for fungal and bacterial disease control. To be on the safe side, separate these two different sprays by three weeks.

Also, remember: no planting, pruning or spraying within 48 hours of a hard freeze.

Late winter or early spring is a good time to prune limelight hydrangeas. Since they bloom on new wood, any heavy pruning should be done before the new growth emerges. They can be cut back to about 18 inches from the ground.

The same would be true of little lime. It should be cut back in winter or early spring since it also blooms on new growth.

Do not prune hydrangeas that bloom on old wood, otherwise you will remove all of this year’s flowers. If you are not sure about the type of wood on which your hydrangeas bloom, then err on the side of caution and hold off on winter pruning.

This summer, take note on where your blooms occur so you will know how to prune next year.

Another word of caution is to wait to prune butterfly bushes until after the last frost. Most needled evergreens do not need regular pruning, but if yours is getting out of hand, now would be the time to do it.

You may prune your crepe myrtles and lilac chaste trees. Prune hollies early – before they set their flower buds. Repeat flowering roses may be pruned about the middle of February. And don’t prune azaleas or rhododendrons until after they have bloomed. Muscadines may also be pruned in January, though I tend to wait until mid-February.

Fruit trees, as well as well as blackberries and blueberries, can be planted now and will benefit from the cool weather and moist soils. Do remember to avoid planting within 48 hours of a hard freeze and to water newly planted trees when there is no rainfall.

Keep cleaning up and mulching your perennial borders and herb gardens. Now is a good time to add lime and compost to the vegetable garden.

The first day of spring is a mere 50 days away, and if you are anything like me, you have 2018 flower and vegetable seed catalogues flooding your mailbox.

You may start tomato and pepper seed indoors around the end of January. Cabbage, broccoli, kale and all members of the brassica family should also be started this month so they will be ready for spring planting.

Beets, carrots, snow peas, English peas and snap peas can be sown directly into the garden – they all like the cool weather and moist soil.

If you are planning to plant potatoes this year, try to get them in the ground by Valentine’s Day.

Keep fertilizing your pansies with a liquid fertilizer. Use a fertilizer that has 50 percent of its nitrogen in the nitrate form. Formulations with nitrogen derived from potassium nitrate (KNO3), calcium nitrate [Ca(NO3)2] or magnesium nitrate [Mg(NO3)2] are recommended. These formulations also have little effect on soil pH, so nutrient deficiencies are less likely to occur.

Pansy blooms should also be removed not only for looks, but to keep the plants from seeding, which consumes the plant’s energy. Trim lanky branches periodically to encourage compact growth and improved flowers.

Don’t forget to feed the birds this winter. Feeding birds can be very rewarding and beneficial to a wide variety of species. If you are trying to attract a particular type of bird, then learn what type of food they like. Sunflower seeds are the favorite of many wild birds, including cardinals, woodpeckers, blue jays, goldfinches, purple finches, chickadees, titmice and nuthatches.

Lastly, continue to either cover your citrus plants, or bring potted ones to a location where they won’t be damaged. The trees need sunshine so don’t leave them indoors or covered any longer than needed; you don’t want the tree dropping leaves because it is not getting enough light.

Covers made of spun polypropylene are breathable and generally range from 0.5- 2.5 ounces. Lighter fabrics offer less protection from outside conditions but allow more light transmission. Generally, these lightweight covers can be left on for a few days (as long as the temperatures are low), but should be removed when it warms up.

That’s all for now. Be on the lookout for next week’s garden advice. In the meantime, the folks at the Extension Office wish you all a happy new year!

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